Twenty-six club sports are played at George Mason University, which means some 750 students are running, rowing, skating, shooting, swimming, and staying active and engaged in a competitive passion, not to mention having a reason to keep in good academic standing.
Success in athletics is measured in wins and losses, but for club sports, there is more to it. In the case of the following four sports, it’s a combination of success on and off the field, with a healthy dose of camaraderie.
Trap and Skeet
Despite being one of the most successful club teams at George Mason, the Trap and Skeet Club has name recognition issues. It’s not obviously identifiable by name alone. Practices for the coed squad take place about nine miles west of the Fairfax Campus behind the locked iron gates of the Izaak Walton League rifle range. And when students read the “tra” on team gear, their minds fast-forward to “track,” not “trap.”
Team members find all this more amusing than disappointing. They are hooked by the instant gratification of shattering target after target and honing a specialized skill that hinges on technique and concentration.
“When I say it’s addictive, I mean it’s addictive,” team member Renee Murphy says. “Now I get mad when I miss a target instead of happy when I hit a target.”
Murphy and her teammates were plenty happy last March, when they won three events to snag the Division III national title at the Association of College Unions International Collegiate Clay Target Championships in San Antonio. It marked the program’s first such crown since a run of 10 in a row that ended in 1995.
“It’s very teachable,” says 13-year coach Gary Olin. “Every year, I get students who have never picked up a shotgun in their lives and at the end of three or four years some of them are very, very good.”
Team member Chris Nelson arrived at his first practice having never picked up a gun. He hit 80 of 100 targets that day. Last fall in an event, he nailed 99 out of 100.
Nelson credits his promising debut to hand-eye coordination he developed playing goalie in lacrosse. Only now he is firing shots, not trying to catch them.
“Once you hit your target, you’re like, all right, I’ve got to do this again,” Nelson says. “You just want to keep getting better and better and better until you can shoot 100 out of 100 consistently. We have fun while doing it, but we like to see those high numbers, too.”
Four times a week, the 30 members of the Mason Crew Club (founded in 1981) push off from a dock at Sandy Point on the Occoquan River Reservoir before most of their classmates are even considering getting out of bed.
Those four early-morning on-the-water practices, combined with year-round training in the dedicated indoor-rowing room in the Field House, have helped the squad enjoy success against higher-profile varsity teams at spring and fall regattas along the East Coast. This fall, the team won the Head of the Occoquan by one second over St. Joseph’s. At Boston’s Head of the Charles, Mason started in the 10th position and finished high enough against a division of varsity Ivies for an automatic berth in next year’s Charles, the largest regatta in the world.
Most of the men rowers and the women coxswains were novices when they signed on, no doubt not realizing the commitment involved in the sport, but the benefits are vast and varied.
“The best part is seeing positive results,” says captain Joseph Butt, a computational and data sciences major. “You get back how much you put into it. All my teammates put in hours and hours of training so we can have successful seasons year after year.”
—Buzz McClain, BA ’77
The dedication of the members of Mason’s Ice Hockey Club has paid off this year with a national ranking—fourth in the 47-team South division—by the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Which isn’t necessarily surprising: most of the 24 players come to the team with 10 or more years of hockey experience, and they train on the ice twice a week at the Prince William Ice Center in Woodbridge, Virginia.
But the team really demonstrates its character when the sticks are in the locker room. Despite a grueling 25-game schedule, the players find time to volunteer on Saturdays to work with special needs skaters, mentor a youth hockey team, and host several fund raisers for children’s charities, raising $29,000 last spring for Children’s National Medical Center.
“The best thing about being on the team is the chemistry on and off the ice,” says president and assistant captain Nick Baker, an applied information technology major. “I’ve made my best friends at college from ice hockey, and my college experience would not have been the same without it.”
—Buzz McClain, BA ’77
The Men’s Rugby Club is the oldest club sport on campus, dating to 1965, a fact that team members have proudly trumpeted for years.
That tradition is evident each spring when current Mason players square off against club alumni. The team’s competitive season in the Potomac Rugby Union’s Division 2 is in the fall with additional matches against regional colleges in the spring.
For prospective players leery of the physicality of a full-contact, no-padding sport, club president Zander Shaw has a simple recruiting pitch: look at me. Shaw is a lean 6-foot, 160 pounds and did not play the sport until he arrived at Mason.
“A lot of guys say, ‘Nah, man, that’s crazy,’ or, ‘I’m too small,’” says Shaw, the rugby club president for the past two years. “Our answer to that is that rugby is often safer than football because there’s a lot of technical tackling and not just throwing your body at someone. There’s a position for everybody.”
All it takes is one steamrolling to learn that proper technique, because if you try to tackle an opponent too high, you won’t know what hit you. That’s how Shaw learned, and he witnesses the same hard-learned lesson every season when new players pick themselves off the ground after being unceremoniously discarded from an opponent’s torso.
“You can tell them as much as you want, but they have to learn it themselves,” Shaw says.
Casual sports fans can soon learn a lot about the sport even without absorbing a blow. Rugby will receive major exposure at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when rugby “sevens,” a speedier version than the 15-on-15 college game, gives the sport its first Olympics presence since 1924.
That publicity could help lure more players. But it is the brotherhood of the sport that will hook them.
“The culture just drags you in,” Shaw says. “Once you get a taste for rugby, you can’t go back to another sport.”